December 6, 2007

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Ben’s Brother, Beta Male Fairytales
Virgin Records, Dec. 4
OK, gather ‘round, soccer moms, time for a reckoning. Ben’s Brother singer Jamie Hartman does James Blunt better than James Blunt, heavy on the fragility and even heavier on the androgyny, which levels off at a near-Nick Gilder girlishness; Five For Fighting are a bunch of Barry Whites in comparison to this guy. Matter of fact, this London outfit cranks every knob on the doctor-office-AOR board to 11, producing radio ga-ga of a truly unhateable sort. “Rise” uncaps the record, its tough tenderness and museum-quality Hammond organ transporting you back to the first time you heard “Maggie May,” all supported by a grog-hall-singalong refrain that will, guaranteed, suck you into singing along midway through the first listen (not a lot of tunes out there interested in accomplishing such things nowadays, are there?). In “Beauty Queen” a perfect storm of mall-chill comes to pass, the band tip-toeing around acoustic piano while Hartman tries to decide whether Blunt or Otis Redding is called for on the vocal end. More gaudy Elton John Mini-Me piano materializes in “Let Me Out,” which, again, makes Blunt the elephant in the room, but the fast-food songwriting is geared almost exclusively to simpler American tastes, which isn’t so bad considering Blunt’s mawkish, often wearisome alternative. A-Eric W. Saeger